Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MÅNS ZELMERLÖW IN SELECT AUSTRALIA

Since we first published this blog by Måns Zelmerlöw, his song Heroes won the Eurovision song contest in Vienna (23 May 2015).  Here the Swedish singer writes about his travels with Select Collection. 

A mix of Australia's best - sophisticated Sydney, sandy beaches, Bohemian Byron, craggy blue mountains, luxurious hotels - and tennis all the way up to the grand finale - The Australian Open...


The Langham, Sydney


When you've been on the road for a day and a night, you need a fond welcome and a lovely place to rest your weary feet. The Langham in Sydney gave us just that. The hotel was bright and fresh, our equally bright and spacious room had a bath that overlooked the tennis court. (Yes we asked Select Collection to arrange hotels that offered tennis or were close to tennis courts.)

Within walking distance of the hotel is the Opera House where our first leisurely wine lunch took place. The following day we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the hotel with stylish service. Staff at the hotel were all knowledgeable and helpful. During the nights we spent in Sydney, The Langham managed to convey that elusive sense of feeling at home away from home.

The Langham lobby


Getting acclimatized at Bondi Beach - surfers on the blue and carefree leisure

Lilianfels


After some hectic and wonderful days we felt the need to rest. Our party are all aged around 30 when rest becomes desirable sometimes. After an hour's drive from Sydney, entertaining ourselves with a quiz, we turned into the peaceful establishment Lilianfels Blue Mountains. The tranquility here is in the air and the first thing that greeted us was the eternally green tennis court, which we later became acquainted with. 

We stayed in a peaceful and spacious room with magnificent views of the Blue Mountains and for the rest of the time we could eat amazing Caesar salads, swim in the indoor and outdoor pool, and visit the beautiful otherwordly lookout Three Sisters, steps away from Lilianfels.

Rugged Blue Mountains - and a viewpoint just a few steps from our hotel

Byron Bay


In Byron Bay we spent three nights at the magnificent Byron at Byron, an establishment in the highest class in our opinion. Located a short taxi ride from Byron Bay itself there was everything we could wish for: excellent service, top class accommodation and infinity pool, all a short walk from a largely untouched and deserted beach and a fantastic restaurant. And then of course the tennis court with the beautiful green artificial turf. 

The days flowed by between six hour lunches, tennis sessions, pool and beach hangouts, and moments in the gym. We had the pleasure to spend Australia Day here and after a good long lunch at the hotel we joined the magnificent evening and night pulse of city and beach.  The only thing we regret is that we did not spend more time here!

Unspoilt Byron Bay coastline fringed by sand dunes and rainforest

Australian lifestyle 

Pool by the rainforest

Park Hyatt, Melbourne


The wonderful city of Melbourne was our last stop on the trip. The Australian Open waited, and also our last accommodation, the Park Hyatt. Imposing, grand and luxurious. The hotel felt great right from the start. The marble glittered and the jacuzzi in the room was inviting. 

The service felt international and all needs were met; everything from transportation to room service. Plus the final proof of the reception's benevolence when they offered us late check out and the ability to use their beautiful spa area while we waited for our night flight back to Sweden. The hotel location was good for us, walking distance to Melbourne Park and the city centre. Did we play tennis? Of course, on the hotel rooftop against the background of the city's skyscrapers. A lovely end to a magnificent trip.




Rooftop tennis for Måns and party  - Park Hyatt






Read more about the Park Hyatt on the SELECT COLLECTION WEBSITE and check out our Australian itineraries. All our itineraries are tailor-made and this one for Måns Zelmerlöw followed a tennis court trail  (as he and his male companions were on the way to the Australian Open and wanted to play tennis all along the way). 


Måns Zelmerlöw itinerary - by Select Collection


Sydney (3 nights)-Blue Mountains (2 nights)-Byron Bay (3 nights)-Melbourne (5 nights)

Måns and party were met by our representatives, Southern Crossings, who really know how to treat our VIPs.

SYDNEY
Of course Sydney was a highlight and offered everything, almost....

To quote from Måns' picture-studded itinerary...

Sunny and stylish, energetic and inviting, Sydney shines all year round. Ferries, yachts, jetboats and harbour cruises share the sparkling waters framed by the world famous white sails of the Opera House and coathanger-like Harbour Bridge. The colonial sandstone warehouses of the lively Rocks district nestle at the foot of tall glass towers and contrast with the modernity of the neighbouring Darling Harbour.

BLUE MOUNTAINS
To give more feeling of adventure and true Australian bush we suggested they should move out of Sydney for a few days and discover the nearby beauty of the Blue Mountains - driving themselves with 4WD and staying at Lilianfels near the fabulous Three Sisters. 

Ninety minutes west of Sydney lies the World Heritage Wilderness of the Blue Mountains National Park. Its dramatic sandstone cliffs, thundering waterfalls and eucalyptus forested gorges invite bushwalkers to stretch their legs. Its charming art deco cliff-top villages will entice you to wander their café lined streets.

BYRON BAY
The usual must, The Barrier Reef, was left out as January is the rainiest month up North. Instead we felt that as a young and active entertainer Måns would like the easy-going cultural scene of Byron Bay, its endless beaches and its very Australian lifestyle.

Just two hours south of Brisbane, surfers and dolphins ride the waves whilst celebrities chat over cocktails and soothsayers sip their smoothies. The hip side by side with the hippy, Byron Bay is a melting pot of surf culture, alternative philosophies and hedonistic indulgence. Subtropical rainforests blanketing mountains forged by ancient volcanoes reach out to the sparkling coastline of endless beaches, crowned, at Australia’s most Easterly point by a single white lighthouse.

MELBOURNE
As with all the properties we offer, luxury is a keynote, and each is chosen in view of the special interests of our clients The reason for including Park Hyatt Melbourne is obvious. They would be at the Australian Open and in their time back at the hotel everything should be on tap. The luxurious Park Hyatt lies in the midst of what Melbourne is best known for - its shopping, culture and dining. It has great spa facilities.  Apart from that its tennis court enjoys the open heavens amidst cityscape...

Equally passionate about sport and ballet, food and fashion a new face of Melbourne – cosmopolitan, avant garde, conservative – is revealed at every bend of the Yarra, in every tiny city arcade and in each of the colourful suburbs of the city fringe.

By the way: the "guest entry" at the 2015 Eurovision  - Australia - gave top marks to Måns Zelmerlöw and Heroes. And Australia gave great marks to Måns.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

AMAN HAVENS IN BALI

Our guest blogger Sonja Catani stays at two amazing Aman hotels on Bali - on a visit packed with sights and barely longer than a weekend!


Amankila – stairway to heaven

Stepping into Amankila’s airy reception area was like stepping into heaven. Literally! You are high up on the cliffs and it feels like you are floating. The scenery takes your breath away and the views are utterly stunning. The main area of the hotel is hard to pin-point, it’s mythical – like a cross over between a Byzantine temple and a medieval castle. It’s majestic and at the same time inviting and warm. Three infinity pools ranging from 24 to 16 meters long, placed on different levels, distort your sense of perspective even more.

But more surprises are to come. We are to be shown to our villa, and asked to step into a “funky car” the hotels main means of transportation, an open top golf-buggy-jeep-thingy. We are driven even further up the hills and arrive at long walkways about two meters over the lush green grounds. At the end of the walkway is our beautiful villa, completely secluded and with its own pool. The layout is typical Aman: spacious bedroom, dressing-room, bathroom, separate shower and bathtub areas and relax- and office-area. With sliding panels one can change the room with thousands of different options for windows letting in the sunlight.

We decided to explore Amankila’s vast area and realized why we we’re offered a ride in the “funky car”. There are stairs and walkways high above ground everywhere. Some people might think it’s too much and resort to being chauffeured around, but we loved it! 120 steps up and down to the main pool area, great exercise and so beautifully laid out.



Sonja on the "steps to heaven"
By the main pool area, you also have two restaurants, a library and a bar. Walk further down on some hundred more natural stairs and you get down to the beach. Laid out in the coconut grove are a large swimming pool and one more restaurant. The beach is black volcanic sand. Stunning. Black sand is the new black! In typical Aman-style you get everything a luxury hotel has to offer, but then some. On the beach you get to try different water sports but there’s also a fruit barbeque and off course the attentive personnel helping you and always showing up even before you knew you wanted another glass of water.

Amankila - a place for total relaxation


We spent two days in Amankila and had time to enjoy great Balinese feast for dinner, champagne by the pool lounging in a balee (Balinese gazebo), wonderful massage treatment by our private pool in the villa, amazing lunches and good walks up and down all the steps. Amankila has a wide range of excursions they offer and are very attentive with kids. The Easter egg hunt in itself, sounds so much fun that I want to go back just for that.

Eternal views from Amankila

Your own spa therapists on duty in the private spa villa

Amandari a grand old lady in Ubud


A relatively short transfer later we are inland and closing in on Ubud, the town famous for arts and crafts, drawing masses of tourists out of which many stay for longer periods of time, learning yoga and ancient teachings. Ubud got even more famous after the movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts as Liz Gilbert, the author who went to Ubud to “find her self”.

Only 10 minutes from Ubud town center is the oasis of Amandari (click here). Amandari is laid like a typical Balinese village and feels comfy and authentic with it’s cobbled narrow “streets” and villas perfectly hidden behind beautifully aged stone walls. It’s very different from Amankila with the vast open ocean views and floating gangways, here you are surrounded by jungle and feel tucked into nature and history. I am so happy that Select included both properties so that we could enjoy the contrasts and experience different perspectives of Bali.

In Amandari we got a lovely villa with private pool and walled terrace over-looking the jungle canyon towards the river floating further down. You can hear the constant sounds of birds singing, but no traffic.

Sonja's villa at Amandari

And the magical setting at setting at dusk
 In Ubud I most of all enjoyed the nature experiences, but also the chance to meet local people and visit them in their homes. Driving in Ubud can be slow due to all the tourists that come from the coast just for a day, but I enjoyed the slow traffic as it gave me a chance to sit back and soak in the local life. It’s almost overwhelming with all the hindu-statues and temples and stone carvings. One day Mrs M and her husband came up by car from their house on the southern coast, and we went for a 2-3 hour bicycle ride outside Ubud. Now, you can do this two ways: one, you bicycle with a guide up and down the hills and get lots of exercise and get to meet local families, visit there homes, walk in rice paddies and look at holy sights and temples. Or you can do it the other way: get a car ride up the hills above Ubud and then roll down the hills on a bicycle with a great guide who will take you to meet his family in their home and out on their rice field. We chose the latter option.

Ricefields


Local life
Cycling in Ubud

Amandari are very helpful in arranging any of these activities and many more. We spent another early morning trekking from Amandari down to the river, over some shaky bridges to the other side and then up through the jungle. The views were out of an Indiana Jones film and that morning hike was my absolute highlight from the whole trip. The hike ended in a small village where we went to a Kopi Luwak farm to try the world’s best, and unfortunately also most expensive, coffee. In New York people cue around a whole block for this coffee, that costs 100 U$ a cup. Well, in a small village outside Ubud you can get it for only 5 U$ dollars. A bargain I would say, after travelling 10000 kilometers to taste it. Not to go into too much detail on how the coffee beans are processed in the stomach of the palm civet cats before roasted, but the coffee is great, worth the trip and the hike.

Shrines everywhere
Trekking - a lifetime experience


We ended our morning with a healthy breakfast set up for us in a private balee up on the steep jungle slope over the river. Opposite we could make out Amandari and realized we’d walked quite far.



Amandari also has tennis courts, a spa, gym, library, bar and large pool. The restaurant has a separate fine dining area for special bookings. We were treated with a traditional Balinese feast in a balee set privately below the hotel. Before dinner we enjoyed a traditional Balinese dance performed by three local girls aged 8 to 12 who attend a dance school that Amandari hosts in the property. You can see their practice class every afternoon at the same time as afternoon tea is served.

Amandari is a grand old lady and under the experienced hand of new General Manager Dee, it will undergo a minor face-lift, like all grand old ladies need to have a pampering once in a while. Return to this blog to read a more detailed account on Amandari.

Ubud town is very popular and has some great restaurants. The sad thing is that we’re not the first tourists to find it and hence even Starbucks has found it and opened up a coffee bar next to the main temple. I am keener on local Kopi Luwak coffee and authentic small villages, but I can see why Ubud is so popular. It’s definitely worth a visit but ask at Amandari for their shop and restaurant itinerary list as they have the best up to date info on where to go, to avoid the common tourist traps.

Amandari also arranged for us a great morning in the local market. You can combine this with a cooking class. Your guide will take you to the market in the morning and give you a specific amount of money and a shopping list, it’s then up to you to find all the food, haggle prices and choose the best produce that you will then cook in the evening with Amandari chef.

Finally I want to recommend going to Bali in November, the rainy season. It sounds crazy, but the fact is that “rainy season” in Bali means, one hour of refreshing rain in the afternoon and a whole lot less tourists than otherwise! Thank You Select Collection team for all your wonderful arrangements!



Memories to take home from Bali


My five favorite nature memories from Bali are:
1. the ocean views at Amankila, eastern Bali
2. the jungle hike from Amandari, Ubud
3. the dramatic cliffs on the southern tip of Bali
4. the bicycle ride down the hills in tea plantations above Ubud
5. the black sand beach at Amankila


Sustainability and conscious thinking


All Aman hotels are always involved in some charity- or environmental projects helping local people.

At Amankila, General Manager Claudia is active in local environmental projects including a large one on how to handle waste. She is also deeply involved in a project to help young mothers and orphan children, something she excitedly talked about with true involvement and feeling. Further on Amankila are very conscious regarding healthy and ecologically produced food, and it’s not you usual hip talk, but actually done.

At Amandari, General Manager Dee supports wild life projects as well as promotes locally made crafts. As a guest you get small handcrafted gifts every night, always made by local people. I got a beautiful small wooden statue made by a blind man. Amandari also supports, as mentioned in the text, a local dance school for children.



Some of the excursions and programs that the hotels offer:




Amankila


Sports:
Diving
Cruising and Snorkeling
Cycling
Trekking
Climbing
Stand Up Paddle
Tennis
Yoga

Wellbeing:
Hollistic treatments and consultations
Spa treatments in room or at Spa pavilion

Tours and Excursions:
East Bali Tours
Temples
Museums
Bali Safari and Marine Park
Local Market
John Hardy Jewelry Showroom
Charlys Chocolate Factory

Kila Kids:
Kid’s picnic
Dancing classes
Making Balinese Offerings (canang)
Kid’s adventure walks


Amandari


Cultural Experiences
Cooking with Amandari in the village
Cultural Tour
Art Class
Visit a Healer

Nature Activities
Hiking and trekking
Bicycle tours
Cross training — cycling and trekking
Mountain Climbing


Flashback

In November when things get truly rough in Northern Europe and you might see the sun for an hour or so every week, its perfect to go away and charge your inner batteries before the long Christmas season. Last year we went to the Maldives and this year we decided to stretch it even more and chose to take #weekendhoppers to Bali.

The only plans we had in place for the Bali-visit was to start the vacation at our friends’ house a few days, other than that I left the whole planning to Select Collection. They arranged great flights with Qatar Airways: short transit in Doha and Dreamliner airplanes on all legs, flat beds to rest our own legs. As I’ve stressed before; don’t regard the travel time as bad thing – see it as time to relax and talk to your significant other. Whenever do we otherwise have time to sit and talk each other without disturbance, enjoy good food and wines together without guests, kids or phones ringing, watch movies and read books uninterrupted for 12 hours?  Or like my husband – fall asleep as soon as he sits down and then snore loudly for twelve hours…. I kid you not, I think he sleep-walked through transit snoring. They must’ve thought he was speaking Dutch.

We arrived in Bali Denpasar new airport in the afternoon, and after a 45 minute drive arrived at our friends’ fantastic villa on the southern tip of Bali, where we stayed three days before our visits to the Aman hotels. During this time we enjoyed a whole day at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay Spa

 I had a chauffeur drive me and Mrs M to Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay for a complete spa experience. We spent three hours in the spa experiencing the full Biorhythm treatment. It’s said to be perfect for restoring the natural flow of the body’s biorhythm and magnetic energy field. And wow did I feel restored afterwards! I was so invigorated I ended up buying lots of great creams and gifts in the spa shop. Afterwards we restored our hungry stomachs by indulging in a huge lunch on fresh grilled fish in the Sundara restaurant.

About Sonja Catani and #weekendhoppers

Travel is my passion and I’ve developed a symbiotic relationship with Select Collection and their team. We plan and discuss together my hopes and dreams for different vacations and trips. Sometimes it’s for art, sometimes for relaxation, sometimes in connection with charity projects. Sometimes I travel alone, sometimes with my snoring husband, other times with friends and occasionally with my young daughter. The trips are always tailor made to suite my needs and I have come realize that the knowledge of the Select Team helps me greatly. All the e-mails and phone calls and personal meetings make the planning so much more fun. As a control freak I never thought I’d actually let someone else plan my vacation in Bali, now I am so happy I did. I’m not paid by Select Collection, Aman Hotels, Four Seasons, Qatar Airways or any other company included in this blog post to write this or any other articles featuring them. However I strongly believe that the palm civet cats should have slipped me a free bag of roasted Kopi Luwak coffee as a thank you for promoting them 

See you for a long weekend in Hong Kong next time!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Four Seasons Koh Samui

Smooth efficiency, extraordinary service and “attention to detail” blew us away at Four Seasons Koh Samui. And of course, the views...

Arrival is special at this superbly private hideaway. The checkin lobby is just a desk perched high on the hillside on the northwestern tip of Koh Samui. There does not seem to be anything else around up there, though you look down-down-down on villas embedded in coconut plantation and tropical greenery, with pools glinting out of the undergrowth. This is where you can come to see the sunset.

Here smiling staff present you with an arrival drink and a garland of flowers, and take an arrival photo of you which soon zips into your iPhone. You are a silhouette against the view. The view is breathtaking. Exciting.

With a lovely feeling of anticipation we hop into a buggy to discover our villa. It is a Deluxe Villa – placed well for the view of water through the palms.

Our own pool and the sound of running water

Very spread out, the villas offer the ultimate in privacy and perfection. Our villa is nestled into the rainforest and there is even an aroma of greenery and growth, with coconuts hanging ripely over us. We can see the sea.

The sound of water is part of the charm. Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui is contemporary in design with decorative features that bring in local culture and art. For example the water we hear is spouting out of a gargoyle. The pictures are perfectly placed and hung, with a touch of colour.

And everything is designed for elegance and comfort. On our terrace we have two sunbeds, as well as two daybeds, which invite you to lie there looking up at the coconut fronds waving in the breeze.

Two daybeds under cover in lush setting - or move over to a sunlounger by the pool

One of two vanities - a "his" side in the bathroom with a place for his luggage and a "her" side with place for hers

...while the bath is placed forward for the view


Bedroom with aquamarine theme - pretty yet sophisticated and very comfortable beds with perfect pillows and sheets

We have divine twin beds in which you sleep through the night without waking. When morning comes we feel fresh, able to hop out of bed and into the pool, before calling a buggy for breakfast.

Beach at Four Seasons

First visit has to be to the beach of course  – we call a buggy.

Down there the beach area has a gate – emphasizing privacy. Once inside you are in the elite Four Seasons world with its exclusive tropical flair.



There is an infinity pool where children are enjoying themselves, and plenty of sunbeds, some sunbeds like round cocoons inviting photography. The beach is real sand, and it is pleasant to walk into the warm water. Watersports facilities are on tap, naturally.



We have lunch at the beach restaurant which has rather reasonable prices. Prices go up somewhat on the dinner menu as there is competition to enjoy romantic dining down here by the water. It is a really nice place to be.





Just above the gate to the beach area, a Thai band played in the early evening, creating wonderful local atmosphere...

Refined Thai music at the beach entrance
We had not notified of our special dietary needs. But once we had told one person at the beach restaurant, the message spread. It as if a jungle drum has been beaten. After all it is in the jungle, and it is Four Seasons...

Dining high 

By the time we got to dinner at the Thai restaurant we had a dietary consultant waiting for us. She sat with us and sewed up a menu to delight even the most allergic soul.

This restaurant is high up at the level of the coconuts with views down over the coconut plantation and magically nested villas  It is the same spot for breakfast.

Arriving at breakfast, I imagined anonymously, I was greeted by name at the entrance as I stepped off the buggy. Good Morning Mrs Stanbridge.

Delicious tropical fruit and home made yoghurt with a view

You get one of those perfect combinations of buffet and a la carte at KOH restaurant, five star cuisine. But the difference in the case of the Four Seasons Samui buffet is its elegance. Just the musli containers are something to romance over.

We had planned to eat at a charming sunset view restaurant only 400 m away mentioned by Trip Advisor, but the concierge could not recommend anything that close – in fact the named restaurant was only that close if you were a bird and could fly. The concierge confirmed no off-site restaurants were within walkable distance. They then suggested various restaurants at from 20 mins drive, so instead we admired the sunset from the lobby and ate at KOH Thai Kitchen & Bar.  The fabulous meal mentioned above.

How to get to Four Seasons Koh Samui

Some 30 mins from Samui airport along the northern coast of the island - a road packed with local shops and restaurants, and Buddhist essentials for the local population - like spirit houses. Of course some Buddhist souvenirs for tourists too.

This circular road on Koh Samui is not a chic shopping area – and  is certainly not a fashionable walking street – but it it is fascinating, genuine, full of little surprises if you are willing to negotiate areas without pavements and so on.

Facilities

Spa, yoga pavilion health club, tennis courts, Diving, watersportts, elephant trekking and other excursions can be arranged.

Four Seasons Koh Samui a nutshell

Total luxury. Total privacy. Private sandy cove beach with pool and watersports. You get around the large estate by buggy. Contemporary tasteful pool villas offer ocean views usually crossed by the trunks and fronds of coconut palms. Fabulous breakfasts, and Thai and Mediterranean cuisine on site. Be prepared to travel some 15-20 minutes by taxi to find other quality restaurants.


Images by Aleah L Stanbridge Photography & Select Collection